There are many reasons why a cook might embark on a time-intensive culinary project. My kombucha, for example, was inspired purely by monetary motivations. Other times, the novelty factor alone is reason enough. Why else would I cure my own olives, here in a city where high quality, ready-to-eat olives abound?
For the full story, we have to rewind two months. It was a clasically sunny but breezy February morning at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, and it seemed like every stall was bursting with baby spring greens: mizuna, arugula, nettles, and more. Amongst all the verdant leafy displays, a small stand caught my eye: instead of mesclun and spinach, it bore baskets of fresh green and purple olives. Here was something out of the ordinary! As I bought a pound of the olives, the farmer rattled off all kinds of information like the varietal and what to do with them, but I was so excited to cure my own olives that it all went in one ear and out the other.
So when I got home with a pound of unidentified green olives, I did two things that any inquisitive cook would do: first, I tasted one. If you’ve ever wondered why olives are always cured, one little nibble will tell you why – they’re so bitter it’s amazing anyone ever figured out how to make them edible.
The second thing that I did, unsurprisingly, was turn to the Internet. I found several websites that prescribed soaking the olives in water for a week, and then in several changes of a brine solution until the bitterness was gone (6-8 weeks). The “recipes,” if you could call them that, were so general that I decided to wing it. For me, the week in water was more like 10 days, and I never measured the salt for the brine. I just threw a handful onto the olives and covered it all with water. After a couple of weeks, the olives were no longer bright green and instead were a drab purpley-brown color. And later, when mold started to grow on the surface of the brine, I simply took that as a cue to refresh the brine. (A little mold never hurt anybody, anyway.)
As the weeks went on, I tasted one every once in a while to keep tabs the on diminishing bitterness…but mostly I just forgot about them. Two months later, miracle of miracles, my olives taste like olives! It’s hard to believe that a little salt and time can turn a completely unpalatable fruit into something so delicious.
I’ve snacked on them alone and thrown them into salads. But I’m cocktail girl at heart, and so my favorite way to enjoy them is one at a time – at the bottom of a martini.
Home-cured olives, ready for nibbling!
My favorite way to enjoy olives: swimming in gin (locally-distilled, natch).